Don’t let late-night eating burn you

There are a lot of reasons to avoid raiding your fridge in the middle of the night. I thought I’d heard them all… until I heard this one. And with Labor Day right around the corner, I thought you should hear about it, too.

Researchers at UC Irvine and the O’Donnell Brain Institute recently discovered that eating outside of natural circadian rhythms can alter the skin’s protective mechanisms against sun damage.

Well, in mice, at least. But these findings are definitely worth a second look…

As part of their experiment, the researchers fed daytime meals to typically nocturnal mice. And they found that, compared to mice receiving normal nighttime meals, the day-eating mice sustained more skin damage from exposure to UVB rays. (These are the rays responsible for superficial sunburns — and also skin cancer.)

Why? The researchers think they know one reason. As it turns out, abnormal mealtimes caused the enzyme xeroderma pigmentosum group A (XPA) to be less active during the day. This enzyme is responsible for repairing sun-damaged skin. (Note that this shift wasn’t evident in the mice who maintained their normal nighttime meals.)

Considering previous research has uncovered clear circadian rhythms related to skin biology, this finding isn’t too surprising. And if this new finding holds water for humans, the practical implications are pretty clear: The timing of your meals is one way you influence your skin’s “clock” for better or worse.

It’s a possibility that I find fascinating — especially since you might recall that my advice regarding sun exposure isn’t exactly typical. (I am an unapologetic sun lover. And ultimately, research suggests that this isn’t such a bad way to be.)

Obviously, I’m not saying you can ditch your sunscreen for baby oil, so long as you don’t eat after sunset. But should the same rules about circadian rhythms apply to the average beachgoer, it points to at least one natural strategy to minimize the risks of sun exposure… while still reaping some of the many benefits.

Either way, one thing is for certain — nobody benefits from a nasty sunburn. And if avoiding an ill-advised midnight snack might help to spare you some sting on one of the biggest beach weekends of the year, then I figured it was a tip worth sharing.